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Lester perfect through six

06.06.09 at 8:43 pm ET
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Jon Lester has now plowed through 18 straight Rangers to open the game without allowing anything close to a hit or even a baserunner. He has gone to a three-ball count just once on a night when his exploding fastball, knee-buckling curve, biting cutter and even his work-in-progress changeup have all been, quite literally, unhittable.

Lester has struck out 10 Rangers through six innings, and has thrown just 61 pitches. Of those, he has gotten swings and misses on a mind-boggling 16 pitches.

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Lester perfectly dominating through five

06.06.09 at 8:16 pm ET
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What Jon Lester has done to the Texas Rangers through five innings is almost a joke.

The left-hander has retired all 15 batters he’s faced, and has struck out nine in the process (including seven of the last nine hitters that he’s faced). To get through his five innings, he’s required just 52 pitches (37 strikes). He has four pitches working to devastating effect, and so Rangers hitters are left, as they say, to approach the plate with a cigarette and a blindfold.

Lester’s otherworldly dominance through five has almost made an afterthought of the fact that he is enmeshed in a pitcher’s duel. Entering the bottom of the fifth, the Sox have scored just one run (on Mike Lowell’s homer), and have a 1-0 lead.

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Lester shows off more toys

06.06.09 at 7:57 pm ET
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Through the first three innings, Jon Lester required little more than his fastball (95-98 mph tonight) and a nasty curve to retire nine straight Rangers in just 25 pitches. In the top of the fourth, as he made the turn for his second trip through the Texas lineup, he unveiled some new weapons: foremost, he lifted the curtain on a devastating cutter and also spun a couple changeups.

Lester struck out the side on 13 pitches in the fourth, and has retired all 12 Rangers on 37 pitches.

Dennis Eckersley: New England is watching and listening.

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Smoltz Done after Six

06.06.09 at 7:43 pm ET
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PawSox manager Ron Johnson said prior to John Smoltz‘ fourth rehab start that the pitcher would go 85 pitches, or an anticipated five innings. Apparently nobody told RJ that Smoltz can stretch a pitch count.

Smoltz retired a string of ten consecutive Bulls from the third inning through his final inning of work.

In total Smoltz threw 74 pitches, 51 of which went for strikes. He allowed one earned run on just one hit while walking two and striking out three. He threw mostly fastballs, hitting 93 mph on the radar gun. The only real difficulty for Smoltz came in the second and third innings.

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When it Rains, It Reviews

06.06.09 at 7:38 pm ET
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For the fourth time in the last 14 days, a controversial home-run call (or lack thereof) in a Red Sox game was subjected to a video review by the umpires. Mike Lowell jumped on an 81 mph slider from Derek Holland (a poor, poor pitch selection on an 0-2 pitch, given that it appears the slider is Holland’s option of third and last resort) and sent a liner screaming down the left-field line. The ball was initially called a double off the top of the Wall. But the umpires conferred, and after a few moments concluded that the ball hit off the shelf atop the Green Monster, above the red line that indicates a homer. And so Lowell was awarded a four-bagger, his ninth of the year, to put the Red Sox up, 1-0, in the second.

Also noteworthy: David Ortiz followed by lacing a 94 mph fastball from Holland for a single through the shift and into right field. It was one of his best swings on a high-velocity fastball this year. His hit came one pitch after he slammed a foul ball off of his right ankle. Ortiz moved gingerly off the field after the inning.

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Six-pitch Sixth for Smoltz

06.06.09 at 7:29 pm ET
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John Smoltz took the hill for the sixth inning after entering the game on an 85-pitch pitch count. Six pitches later, he’s getting ready for the seventh.

Rashad Eldridge led off the inning by bunting the first pitch down the third baseline. He was thrown out by Angel Chavez. Center fielder Justin Ruggiano then flew to right on the first pitch he saw.

Chris Richard displayed unprecedented patience by seeing four pitches before eventually flying out to center. Smoltz threw just six pitches, five for strikes. He is now at 74 pitches through six innings and will most likely pitch the seventh. He has still given up just one hit.

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Lester pours the gas

06.06.09 at 7:14 pm ET
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Last year, Jon Lester’s fastball velocity was a revelation. By the end of the year, he was hitting 96 mph on the radar gun, a number that had rarely if ever been seen from him before.

Tonight, he is demonstrating that he might have another gear. Lester is featuring an overpowering fastball tonight, having hit 98 mph on a couple of occasions while also regularly blasting 95, 96 and 97 mph heaters in a 1-2-3 first inning. He closed the frame by getting Andruw Jones to swing and miss at an 81 mph curveball.

Interestingly, Rangers starter Derek Holland is throwing nearly as hard. His fastball was 95-97 mph in the bottom of the first, an inning in which he also retired the Sox in order, and so it is scoreless after one.

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Smoltz Has 1-2-3 Fifth Inning, will likely go back out

06.06.09 at 7:12 pm ET
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Bulls third baseman Chris Nowak led off the fifth inning by striking out on three straight sliders from John Smoltz. Chaves then grounded out to second, bringing up DH and leadoff man Jon Weber for a third time. The left-handed hitter flew out to short, ending the inning.

After five innings Smoltz has thrown 68 pitches, 46 of which have gone for strikes.

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Smoltz has 1-2-3 Fourth

06.06.09 at 6:59 pm ET
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John Smoltz had his cleanest inning of the game, retiring Ray Sadler, John Jaso, and Ray Olmedo in order. Sadler struck out on an 87 mph slider. Smoltz then got Jaso and Olmedo to ground out to PawSox second baseman Travis Denker for the 1-2-3 inning.

Smoltz threw nine pitches, seven of which went for strikes. He has now thrown 59 pitches and 38 strikes through four innings. He has still allowed just the one run from the second inning.

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Smoltz’ Third Inning

06.06.09 at 6:52 pm ET
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After Chip Ambres gave the PawSox a 2-0 lead with the team’s second solo-shot of the game, John Smoltz took the mound for the third inning in Pawtucket.

Left-handed shortstop Brandon Chaves drove a Smoltz fastball to deep right that was impressively tracked down by Ambres, bringing up the top of the order. Smoltz hit 92 on the gun while facing Weber for the second time. The Bulls DH grounded out to second. Eldridge reached on an error by first baseman Jeff Bailey in an at-bat that featured Smoltz’ first non-fastball of the inning: an 83 mph splitter. Justin Ruggiano then walked, putting runners on first and second with two men out. Smoltz then got ahead of Chris Richard, 0-2, before inducing an inning-ending groundout to Bailey.

Smoltz threw 17 pitches, 11 for strikes. He has now thrown 50 entering the fourth.

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